As is expected of each and every transfer window, for the eleven weeks till season 2011/2012 begins, endless speculation has dominated the back pages (that, and reports on various summer football tournaments, including Japan winning the Women’s World Cup), with everyone from players’ agents to a club’s tea lady breaking rumours that so-and-so was spotted in the vicinity of a big club going on a tour/having lunch/shopping. But on a more serious note, two of the biggest transfer stories in recent weeks have been about playmakers, specifically Wesley Sneijder and Luka Modrić.
First, a little about the players.
Dutchman Wesley Sneijder had an eventful 2010. Not only did he help his club Inter Milan win the first Treble (Serie A, Copa Italia, and the UEFA Champions League) in Italian football history, but he also found the time to lead the Netherlands to their first World Cup final since 1978, as well as ending up as joint top goal scorer at the tournament.
A product of Ajax Amsterdam’s famed youth academy, Sneijder was transferred to Inter in 2009, after two seasons (and one Spanish league title) with Real Madrid. Inter coach (back then) Jose Mourinho gave him the freedom and responsibility to attack, and Sneijder, freed from the shackles of defensive duties, repaid his coach’s faith by starring as his club swept all before them. One of the few footballers who are equally adept at using both their feet, Sneijder is also known as a dead-ball specialist for his ability to score from free-kicks. At the World Cup, he scored five goals (although two were aided by deflections) and dragged his nation to the final, where they lost to Spain. Arguably, Sneijder’s exploits in 2010 affected his form last season, as he suffered from muscular problems and a thigh injury, which hampered his chances of reaching the heights of Season 2009/2010.
Tottenham Hotspurs’ little Croatian dynamo is just 25 years old, but has impressed in recent seasons with his pass distribution and calmness on the ball. Brought up during the Croatian War on Independence, Luka Modrić learnt his trade while playing for Dinamo Zagreb, Croatia’s most successful club. Despite his slight frame (he’s only 5 ft. 8), Modrić was loaned out to play in the Bosnian Premier League, well-known for its physicality, when he was just 18 years old. That experience stood him in good stead, as it gave him the necessary steel to compliment his artistry with the ball.
Eventually, when Spurs signed him in 2008, he easily adapted to the fast, tough nature of the Premier League. Like Sneijder, Modrić plays well with both feet, and possesses great vision and accurate passing ability. However, while Sneijder is best-deployed behind the strikers in an attacking midfield position, Modrić can play almost anywhere in midfield. His preferred position is deeper, usually part of a central midfield pairing in a 4-4-2. Due to his upbringing, the Croatian is also a good tackler, a skill that most playmakers lack. Although he doesn’t score many goals (only 12 in 120 games for Spurs), his contribution to the team cannot be measured in quantitative terms, as he provides a reassuring and calming presence in midfield.
Both players have been heavily linked to Premier League clubs, Sneijder to Manchester United, and Modrić to Chelsea. Although Sneijder is refusing to commit to either Inter or United, Modrić is singing a different tune, openly declaring his intention to leave Spurs for their London neighbours. However, as some have mentioned, are they more suited for the other team?
Inter are proposing a £35million transfer fee, but the sticking point is the Dutchman’s wages, which are reportedly £220,000 a week. Aside from money issues, an interesting question is, “Where would Sneijder fit in?” He is a playmaker, who’s at his best playing behind a lone striker. United already have one of those in Wayne Rooney, who fulfilled that requirement with success last season in tandem with Chicharito. Disrupting the Rooney-Hernandez axis would be a difficult decision to make.
In addition, his presence in the team practically dictates that the manager play a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Sneijder playing between two wingers in the “3”. Inter Milan have done well with it, and so have the Dutch national team. This strategy is important, as Sneijder requires two defensive midfielders to cover for him while he dictates his team’s attacking play high up the pitch. Although he has played as part of a traditional central midfield duo while at Real Madrid, that is not his natural position. Meanwhile, Sir Alex Ferguson likes to employ a 4-4-2, and it’s difficult to see him changing his tactics to suit one player, no matter how good he is.
As for Luka Modrić at Chelsea, he would actually be a good fit. The Blues have a large assortment of midfielders to choose from, but most of them are lacking in youth and consistency. Frank Lampard is 33, Michael Essien is 29 and often crocked, while “young guns” Ramires and John Obi Mikel are still fairly inconsistent.
Chelsea require a player to replace Lampard, whose performances in recent seasons have waned. It can be argued that Wesley Sneijder is a more suitable than Modrić for that role, as he’d slot into Lampard’s position at the tip of the Blues’ midfield diamond, supplying plenty of passes to their £50million striker, Fernando Torres. Although Torres is strong in the air, he’s somewhat isolated with two wingers crossing balls into the box (as Chelsea tend to play). Torres is at his best when quick passes are played to him, in order to utilise his pace, as evident from his best years at Liverpool when Steven Gerrard played in the hole behind the Spaniard. In theory, Sneijder and Torres would be an effective pairing.
United have a pressing need to replace Paul Scholes (who has retired), and Modrić is a suitable candidate due to his penchant for playing deep in midfield, like the former-England midfielder. Unlike Sneijder, he’s comfortable in a central-midfield duo, and possesses a keen fondness of spraying passes from within his own half. The Croatian would also demand lower wages than Sneijder (it’s reported that he’s currently on £45,000 a week) and is also used to the rigours of the Premier League, so the “bedding in period” won’t be for long.
New United signing Ashley Young can also play in the position behind the main striker, and if Rooney stays fit, United do not have an urgent need for a player like Wesley Sneijder. However, if Modrić gets his wish to join the Blues, and they end up hijacking United’s bid for Sneijder, it might be time for the Red Devils to start worrying.
Darren Goon recently spotted Frank Lampard in the lobby of One World hotel. He was there with Didier Drogba and a few other Chelsea players. Surely this must mean that they’re thinking of ending their careers here in the Malaysian Super League!
Image taken from here.